#BlogTour #BookReview - The Dying Game by Asa Avdic

‘Oh, it’s really quite simple. I want you to play dead.’

On the remote island of Isola, seven people have been selected to compete in a 48-hour test for a top-secret intelligence position. One of them is Anna Francis, a workaholic with a nine-year-old daughter she rarely sees, and a secret that haunts her. Her assignment is to stage her own death and then observe, from her hiding place inside the walls of the house, how the other candidates react to the news that a murderer is among them. Who will take control? Who will crack under pressure?

But as soon as Anna steps on to the island she realises something isn’t quite right. And then a storm rolls in, the power goes out, and the real game begins…

I'm delighted to be closing the blog tour for The Dying Game today, many thanks to the author and Laura at Windmill Books for inviting me to take part and for my advance copy of the book.
Set in the the Communist-like Protectorate of Sweden in near future, The Dying Game imagines that the fall of the Berlin Wall never happened in 1989 and instead was ultimately the catalyst for a second Cold War in the early 2000s. Now 2037, Anna Francis is summoned to a Soviet style Secretariat Building where the Chairman of the Protectorate offers her a role she - literally - cannot refuse. At this point it becomes clear that her past has given the State has some sort of hold over her meaning she has no choice but to play dead. Her assignment means she must then spy on the other candidates for a top level position (which, in keeping with the shady dealings of the government, is never fully revealed.)
Once she is on the desolate island of Isola she is shocked to discover she knows one of the group, her former colleague, Henry, and begins to suspect there is more to the assignment that she first believed. Nevertheless she goes ahead with the plan to fake her death. When other candidates start to fall victim to foul play and one by one gradually disappear from the house, it seems they really  are in danger - but who can they trust? Anna is hidden away but sees the events taking place through spy holes. Does she reveal herself and risk the anger of the Party or remain in her hiding place to observe behaviour of other guests?
Anna's actions are complicated by her past, not only because it means the government know they can control her but also because her responses are shaped by her earlier trauma. She spent years working with refugees in Kyzyl Kum, on the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, at first she was highly successful becoming a public figure back in Sweden but ultimately the mission was a failure, she was ordered to terminate her project, returning damaged and clearly suffering from PTSD.   Anna's memories and nightmares give glimpses to the horrors that occurred there but could the trauma have made her an unreliable narrator...
The Dying Game is a contemporary homage to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None; in many ways it's a classic locked room mystery with a growing sense of paranoia as the candidates discuss who will be next and who they can trust. If Anna and to a lesser extent, Henry are our eyes and ears, then the other candidates could easily have come from a house party in a stately home - we have the retired colonel, the media personality, the boorish businessman and the seemingly ordinary woman who may know more than she seems. What secrets are they concealing? However, the book is also a dystopian novel reminiscent of The Hunger Games where an all powerful Party watches from a distance, manipulating and controlling the events that occur. As the novel progresses, fear takes over and in a gripping conclusion to the assignment of Isola, the situation seems to spiral out of control of even the State.
The chapters are mostly told from Anna or Henry's point of view, with occasional peeks at the inner discussions of the Party. I liked Anna but she is not an easy character to really know, having built walls around herself. Her relationships with her mother and daughter are fascinating but frustrating, I would have loved to have known more about their history. Henry is a mysterious character, as his chapters reveal just how much he really knows and what he really thinks of Anna, I wanted to warm to him but was never really sure of his true intent. If Anna and Henry are two of the major characters in the book then the weather has to be the third, the chilling storm that batters the island is an atmospheric symbol of the bleak and chilling truth, and of the ruthlessness of those in power.
I loved that even with the conclusion there is still the feeling that the reader never fully understands the devious workings of the State. Not a cheerful read then, but The Dying Game is a compelling, creepy and original political thriller that examines just how far free will exists and how governments can exert their control and use our pasts to shape our futures. This is an intelligent, suspenseful debut and I look forward to reading more from Asa Avdic.

The Dying Game is published in the UK by Windmill Books, a Penguin Random House imprint. Don't forget to check out  the other stops on the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Asa Avdic is a journalist who for years was a presenter for Swedish Public Service Radio and Television and is currently a host of Sweden’s biggest morning current events programme. She lives with her family in Stockholm, Sweden. The Dying Game is her first novel.
Twitter - @asaavdic